Movie - 1992, G, 89 minutes, Disney; IMDb entry
Genre - Family, Musical, Drama, Comedy
Cast - Michael Caine, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson
Director - Brian Henson
DVD - 1.33:1 pan & scan, Dolby Digital 5.1, (English), subtitles - English; single-sided, double-layered disc; $19.99 SRP, Released 10/8/02

The Muppet Christmas Carol: 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray cover art
This review from 2002 is old and outdated. For a more recent and relevant take, check out our 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray review, which compares the film's newest release to its two DVDs.

Movie - The Muppet Christmas Carol is, without a doubt, my favorite Muppets film. Released to theaters ten years ago, Christmas Carol is significant for being the first film of the new Muppet era, following the 1990 death of Muppet creator and mastermind Jim Henson. Jim's son Brian takes the helm in his directorial debut for the Muppets take on the staple of holiday entertainment, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. While the story has been done in over thirty different films, and countless TV series, The Muppet Christmas Carol stands out as one of the more memorable and more successful renditions.

Michael Caine plays the cold miser Ebenezer Scrooge; as such, he plays the straight man and his serious and thoughtful performance does things. Firstly, it gives the film emotional strength and real feeling, which is not all that common for a Muppets film. Sure, the Muppet Movie and Muppets Take Manhattan were able to present a convincing story and puppets that you actually cared for, but it was usually done in a zany, self-knowing comic method. But Muppet Christmas Carol is not without the wonderful Muppets sense of humor, for the second successful element of Caine's lead performance is that the contrast between Scrooge's miserable ways and the general cheery disposition of the Muppets in the story's various roles creates a lot of funny situations. Take a scene near the beginning at the counting house. It's cold, dark, and dreary - very much leaping out of the vivid descriptions of Dickens' written word. And yet, the exchanges between Scrooge and Bob Cratchit (Kermit) and the team of working rats are comic gold. The set design and cinematography of this piece is filled with life, as are the wonderful songs written by Paul Williams.

Overall, Muppet Christmas Carol is a delight for all ages, and is one of the finest Christmas films of the 1990s, or any time for that matter. Filled with laughter, warmth, and lovely holiday music, this is one excellent film, and the perfect blend of a timeless story and the classic Muppets charm.

Video - As my favorite of the six Muppet films, I had been anticipating a DVD release of Muppet Christmas Carol for a long time. A really long time. We're talking over three years of being near the top of my "DVD Wants" list, from when I got my DVD player in early 1999. And now, Disney has finally released this treasure this fall, and in Pan & Scan only. Now, it's certainly pretty difficult to fathom this decision, and you've all heard (assuming you read these reviews) my standard "evils of Pan&Scan" rant. But this exclusively Fullscreen release is undoubtedly the most disappointing Disney DVD travesty to me personally.

As I mentioned before, Muppet Christmas Carol is filled with holiday sights and sounds. Let me emphasize the "sights" part, since this is the Video section. This film's visual look is very faithful to the Dickens text. This is cold, snowy Dickensian England and is perfectly rendered by Director of Photography John Fenner and Director Brian Henson. Both have a keen sense of framing and this film, like all Muppets films, are carefully hard-matted for the 1.85:1 widescreen ratio, so that the Muppets and scenery can fill the frame, just perfectly, without any performers or shortcuts being seen. In addition to probably being the best-photographed of the Muppet films, Christmas Carol also has the most elaborate use of visual effects, particularly for the ghosts that visit Scrooge.

Suffice it to say, that even though the film was released in widescreen on the DVD, even though there was a huge outlash from DVD enthusiasts regarding the Fullscreen-only Muppet Treasure Island DVD, even though Brian Henson himself expressed to Disney that he didn't approve of the Fullscreen-only release...Muppet Christmas Carol is presented in 1.33:1 Pan & Scan, and it certainly suffers from this treatment. The frames are cramped here, and furthermore, the Fullscreen video transfer looks pretty horrid. The picture lacks depth and contrast, the dark scenes seem far too dark and lack detail, and the carefully-rendered scenery loses a little bit of their charm.

Clearly, Disney knows that Muppet Christmas Carol is one of the most beloved Muppets films (they need only to check IMDb's ratings and comments, critical reviews, or Amazon's sales rankings to discover this), and yet they shortchanged the fans and decided both to not present the film in its original widescreen ratio, and to put out a disappointing transfer of such a visual film.

Audio - Like the Muppet Treasure Island DVD I reviewed early this year, Christmas Carol fares much better in the audio portion. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a very pleasing mix. The wonderful songs come to life in this active surround mix. The soundstage is wide, and presents a contrast to the stunted video and crammed frame. The windy, snowy settings have an undeniable presence, as do the enigmatic and eery spirits that must help Scrooge get his life together. A well-done Dolby Digital track like this makes the underwhelming video experience all the more disappointing.

Extras - Like the Treasure Island DVD, Muppet Christmas Carol has some very fun and entertaining extra features. First off, let me complain about the lack of a theatrical trailer. Sure, it's just a trailer, but hey, if it's just a trailer, then how about just putting that trailer on the DVD. At this point, Disney owes it to their customer base to put out a free DVD consisting just of trailers, the ones missing from all their recently released catalogue titles, like the two Muppet films, Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Houseguest, Jungle 2 Jungle, Max Keeble's Big Move, The Rookie, and the upcoming Santa Clause Special Edition, which loses the trailer from the original DVD. It's simple, Disney, to include the trailers, and we LIKE please stop this trend of leaving them off right now!

Now, onto the features that ARE included. Well, first, let me discuss the menus. They're very well done, and similar to the Treasure Island ones. Fully animated, and in some ways, 3-D, the menus present the wonderful sights and sounds of the Christmas season. We see the snowy outdoors through the window, the fireplace crackles, and Kermit the Frog is our host to the DVD, while the film's score plays. If you don't select something right away (and of course you won't because you want to see what happens), Kermit tries to remain calm, while urging you to pick something. They're a lot of fun, just like this movie, but not like the Pan & Scan transfer on the DVD.

There is a full-length Audio Commentary by director Brian Henson. Henson doesn't have Muppet performers Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire providing Gonzo and Rizzo voices like they did on the Treasure Island commentary (although they do show up for the documentary), so it's not as lively and fun, but it's still a rather informative commentary and easy to listen to. Henson discusses the technical aspects of the film-how live actors will have to perform on planks while the puppeteers do their work below ground level, the visual effects employed for the ghosts and the sets, and being able to create the illusion of an expensive visual effect repeatedly, if only showing it once. There is also plenty of insight into the movie as a whole. Henson discusses why the "When Love is Gone" musical sequence was removed for theatrical release, but restored for video and TV versions. He also makes the very interesting point that while people always think of the Muppets version of Christmas Carol as being a wacky take-off, it is in fact more faitfhul to Dickens story than most film adaptations--not only is the dialogue directly from the book, but having Gonzo appear as Charles Dickens telling the story allows the film to also make use of Dickens' poignant descriptions and narration.

Next up is a 22-minute making-of featurette called "Frogs, Pigs, and Humbug: Unwrapping a New Holiday Classic", which combines newly filmed footage of Henson, Gonzo, and Rizzo discussing the film with interviews and clips from the set during production ten years ago. Rizzo and Gonzo add a hilarious sense of irreverence to the featurette, which keeps it distant from being self-praising and serious. The result is a delightful featurette, with some genuine insight, and just a whole lot of fun in recalling this magical movie. Also included is "On The Set", a gag reel which runs 2 minutes and 32 seconds, including the 35 second intro from Gonzo and Rizzo. The outtakes are good for a few laughs, though you might expect more. And finally, there is the 3-minute "Christmas Around the World" featurette, which as the title implies, discusses the various traditions of celebrating Christmas around the world. Not only is it pretty interesting (if very basic), but the Gonzo and Rizzo spin again makes this a hilarious feature. It had me laughing.

Closing Thoughts - It's painful for me to write this review of The Muppet Christmas Carol DVD. It's my favorite Muppet film, and the last one to come to DVD, and it's disappointing that Disney couldn't have given us a nice anamorphic widescreen transfer. Outside of the poor Pan & Scan video transfer, this is an adequate DVD presentation, and like Disney's other Muppet DVD release, the extras and menus are spirited, entertaining, and amusing. If Muppet Christmas Carol is as much of a holiday tradition in your family as it is in mine, I'll have trouble dissuading you from getting this DVD. It is extremely disappointing to have one of my all-time favorite films lacking even the letterboxed transfer included on its laserdisc from several years ago. (Unhappy about this? Call 1-800-72-DISNEY or e-mail and complain!) Nevertheless, this film is a tour-de-force, and is sure to brighten you up, whether it's the Christmas season or not. Filled with memorable moments, from "Marley and Marley" to "Light the candle, not the rat!" to Michael Caine's terrific performance, Muppet Christmas Carol is (along with Bill Murray's Scrooged) one of the most charming adapataions of Charles Dickens' beloved story, and is certainly one of the best films of recent times.

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The Muppet Christmas Carol: 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray cover art
This review from 2002 is old and outdated. For a more recent and relevant take, check out our 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray review, which compares the film's newest release to its two DVDs.

Related Reviews:
The Muppet Christmas Carol (20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray) The Muppets A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa

In November 2005, Disney re-released to DVD The Muppet Christmas Carol and three other Muppet films in honor of Kermit's 50th Anniversary. The remastered reissues of The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island included 16x9-enhanced widescreen transfers for the first time on the format. You can read our reviews of those DVDs here:
The Muppet Christmas Carol: Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition (Buy)
Muppet Treasure Island: Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition (Buy)
The Muppet Movie: Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition (Buy)
The Great Muppet Caper: Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition (Buy)

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